The Sweetest Burn

Page 19

I stared at him, feeling as though every word had struck me right in the heart. Emotions I’d fought came roaring to the surface, making the words I love you, too, tremble on the edge of my lips.

But if I said them, I wouldn’t be able to hold anything back, and I had to. This was more than bad relationship timing: destiny said that we were supernaturally doomed as a couple. I might want to believe that Adrian could beat his fate, but how could I throw caution to the winds in the middle of a demon realm, let alone an apocalyptic war? If I couldn’t even wait until Adrian made good on his promise to prove that he wouldn’t betray me again, then I had no business resuming a relationship where the fallout could be far more serious than rebreaking my heart.

“I still care for you,” I said, my voice cracking from everything I wouldn’t allow myself to say. “And I want that chance to see if we’d work out. But right now... I can’t.”

His arms closed around me and he held me tight enough to almost force the air out of my lungs. I must’ve made a gasping sound because he released me, his hands gripping my shoulders instead. They kept flexing, as if he were having difficulty holding in his strength, and when he pressed his forehead against mine, his ragged breaths fell onto my cheeks.

“I know, but I’m not giving up, and you shouldn’t, either. Besides, love and lust aside, I don’t want to break my promise to you. I want you to know that you can trust me, both with your life, your sister’s and everyone else’s.”

If it were only my life at risk. But it wasn’t, and I was relieved that he understood that. Jasmine had been through too much for me to make that decision for her, and the same was true for everyone else. Still, I wanted him to know what his vow meant to me. I reached out, stroking his face. “Adrian, I—”

His hand clapped over my mouth with a suddenness that startled me. Then fear replaced my surprise when he rose and pulled me up with him, his heart hammering hard enough for me to feel the vibrations against my cheek.

“It can’t be,” he muttered in a barely audible whisper.

I pulled his hand away and turned around, looking at the only thing I could see in the darkness—the castle. Then I stared, my mind nearly going blank with disbelief.

How did Adrian know? was my first coherent thought. We’d been sitting well below the window, so he wouldn’t have been able to see the demon that now strode out from the castle and into the parking lot.

My next thought was a silent scream. How is he still alive? He should be ashes along with every other demon I’d killed in the Bennington realm!

But he wasn’t. I didn’t need to see the demon’s pale, pale skin or his long black hair to recognize him. The shadows emanating from him were horrifyingly familiar. They curled around the demon, haloing him with pure, impenetrable darkness that swallowed all the lights behind him.

Adrian yanked me down until we were both hidden beneath the window again. Speak of the devil and he shall appear ran through my mind. Adrian had just said how much he hated the demon who’d raised him, and now Demetrius was here. Alive. And looking as frightening and powerful as ever.

Both of us barely breathed as we waited to see if we’d been discovered. An agonizing few minutes later, the sounds of a car starting up and pulling away had Adrian peeking over the ledge.

“He’s gone,” he said with relief.

“How is he even alive?” I finally asked aloud, still reeling. “I should’ve killed Demetrius when I wiped out the Bennington realm!”

“I thought you did,” Adrian replied grimly. “But either he was too strong to be taken out by the slingshot, or he found a way out.”

Then he shook his head as if to clear it. When he looked back at me, his expression was harder than the stone walls that surrounded us. “We need to get through that gateway, Ivy. Now.”


WE DIDN’T KNOW how soon Demetrius would return, so Adrian gave up any attempts to be stealthy. After checking my tattoo to make sure that it wasn’t glowing, he strode through the courtyard and up to the front of the house, flinging open the door as though he owned the place.

As expected, only the emergency lights were on, but compared to the tower, it was practically daylight inside. I followed Adrian, clutching the bag of grave dirt in my hand, as we entered the opulent castle.

A blazing fireplace lit up the large room, and under different circumstances, I would’ve loved to spend time there. As it was, I barely noticed the beauty around me. My quick, danger-evaluating glance registered that the walls were sand colored, the floor was Mexican tile and a huge chandelier hung between three balconies that overlooked the room. What held my full attention were the couches and chairs set up around the large fireplace, because none of them were empty.

“Who are you?” a wiry man wearing an early-nineteenth-century costume demanded.

“Don’t worry, we’re not staying,” Adrian growled, catching my hand when I started to slow down. “Gateway, Ivy, remember?”

“There are at least a dozen people here,” I hissed. “We can’t leave them behind!”

“They might not be the only ones here,” he reminded me, his voice very low. “You want them close by if we find out that Demetrius didn’t come here alone?”

No, I didn’t. Costa had once been taken hostage by a demon. I didn’t want the same to happen to any of these people until we made sure that the gateway was here and it was demon-free.

“We’ll be back,” I told the crowd huddled by the fireplace, hurrying to keep up with Adrian’s strides. “Don’t anyone leave.”

As soon as I said it, I realized the brutal irony of my directive. They couldn’t leave. Not unless we helped them.

“You can’t go up there!” the costumed man called after us, but I didn’t stop. Neither did Adrian. He took the stairs two at a time once we reached the staircase, drawn to the second floor by a force I couldn’t sense or see. I kept glancing at my hand as I followed. No eerie golden glow, no pain. So far, so good.

The second-floor staircase landing opened into an even more gorgeous room, with stained glass windows and a curved ceiling decorated with row upon row of engraved wood. It had another fireplace, with more artfully arranged furniture in front of it. This time, no one was gathered around the fireplace, and Adrian went right for it, shoving the fancy couches and chairs out of his way. Then he held out his hand, and I was shocked to see it disappear as if rubbed out by a magic eraser.

“The gateway’s right here,” he said, drawing his hand back, which made it whole again. “But it’s so new, it doesn’t feel stable yet. Come here, Ivy. It could close up any minute.”

“I’m not going anywhere without those people,” I protested.

Adrian made it to me in two long strides. “I’ll come back for them,” he said through gritted teeth. “I can go through without you, but you can’t cross the gateway without me.”

“I left you behind in a demon realm once,” I snapped. “I’m never doing that again, so we can waste time arguing, or we can get those people and then all get out of here.”

He muttered a particularly foul Demonish curse, but with a short nod, he gave up the fight. We were almost at the staircase when my arm suddenly flamed with pain, coinciding with a loud whooshing sound behind us.

I didn’t need to turn around to know that we were no longer alone in the room.

“Fuck,” Adrian hissed, shoving me toward the stairs. “Run!”

I did, for the first few steps. Then I spun around, remembering that I had the hallowed grave dirt. I burst back into the room to see Adrian smash a grand piano over someone’s head. The wood from the piano immediately took on a pale, shiny glaze and then exploded outward, revealing an African-American man with white hair and eerie, albino-like eyes. Being brained by a baby grand didn’t seem to faze the demon, either. He grinned, saying something very fast in Demonish. I didn’t know what, but I recognized one word: Adrian’s name.

“Oh shit,” I whispered.

The demon knew who Adrian was. So much for Zach saying that Adrian wouldn’t need to be disguised with Archon glamour. Then again, who else would be strong enough to treat a piano like a baseball bat?

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